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It’s been difficult not to get a bit tearful this past week.

Things have been getting closer to normal: camp-outs on Senior Field, fun days for the leavers, drama productions, singing competitions, poetry workshops and declamations, organ recitals, inter-school science conferences, days in the community, a Summer Festival, a garden opera, a re-imagined trip to Lille (“@Highgate”), graduation, sports days (snatched from the clutches of unseasonal rain) and even a leavers’ ball of sorts (no dancing allowed, however, and dining in ‘bubbles’).

I knew that the Year 7 trip to Lille was being re-cast as a two-day francophone aventure in school because the French Department has been working on the project ever since it became clear that the pandemic would once again put paid to our tradition of ending the year with residential trips for Key Stage 3. To replace the experience of quizzing the good citizens of Lille about their shopping and lunching habits, teaching and support staff colleagues were invited to dust down their French and answer pupils’ questions. What a wealth of untapped Francophonic skill we have! And indeed of stamina: our wonderful assistantes gamely took on questions from sixteen classes (Year 8 joined in) across two days.

Pettitt fils senior combined French with music, leading Year 7 in a rendering of ‘The Bare Necessities of Life’, en français, bien sûr. The young linguists had worked out the difficulty of translating the bear/bare pun, but I found myself agreeing to the line (and its literal translation), ‘Il en faut peu pour être heureux /Vraiment peu pour être heureux’, ‘You don’t need much to be happy/Really not much to be happy’ but, gosh, how we have missed the ‘peu’ you do need to be really happy.

The choral theme was reprised in Year 12 whose A level musicians staged the first act of The Marriage of Figaro on the impromptu open-air stage on Junior Field next to the Mallinson Sport Centre. On a beautifully sunny July afternoon colleagues and pupils took a break from the frenzy of these final days, some because they had planned to try out a children’s version of Glyndebourne, others because they were simply on their way to or from lunch, and marvelled at the newly-discovered, playful wit and sparkling, musical confidence of performers, some of whom had perhaps been as well-known for their rapping or sporting prowess as their mastery of Mozart. No longer! I felt we had the beginnings of an opera company in the making. I wasn’t the only one in that glad audience to find that the first post-lockdown experience of live music, of a live performance, brought not only laughter but tears.

With news of school closures and cancelled speech days we were lucky to get our leavers’ events over the line: a morning of cheerful inter-house “It’s a knock-out” competition (Fargate House the champions!); a graduation ceremony with House Captains and Heads of School speaking, live-streamed to parents/carers and siblings at home, reminiscing about the in-house (no pun intended) funnies which will evoke nostalgia for years to come; the no-dancing ball, complete with comedian,  magician and audience participation in a dining hall transformed for the night by the imagination and inventiveness of Ball Committee volunteers. As we struggled to persuade the leavers, heady with the dual rite-of-passage and football-victory emotions, to head home or at least to head away from Senior Field, the affection we feel for those who have been there for us and watched us grow up was touchingly, palpably real. More tears.

We are realising what we have missed, and what matters, and the good fortune amongst the many challenges, of finally being together, or much more together than we have known. And how we look forward to coming and to being together again!